Ephesians 4:4

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September 24th

The sun’s just about to pierce through the night sky when I pull up on the street corner. I exit my jalopy and speed walk past the forensic vehicles and brown police cars—due to the early hour, the scene isn’t yet packed with morbid curiosity from the public.

Sliding past the yellow DO NOT CROSS tape, I spot Dempsey in the distance. I allow the bleak alleyway to envelop me like a spider web holding a prey captive.

Two unclothed corpses, both females, lie on the ground, their backs against the walls opposite each other. From where I stand, I can tell they’ve been mutilated, limbs and faces alike. Few light stands have been set up, giving the corpses these eerie, shadowed expressions—it feels like I’m standing on the stage of a twisted, life-size puppet show.

Taking a deep breath, I approach Dempsey who acknowledges my presence with an almost imperceptible tilt of his chin but stays quiet. Something of a telltale of his: he doesn’t want to be disturbed. I can only imagine how many theories are swimming through his head. I quietly move in to conduct my own observation, whipping out a notepad and a pen.

The two women are about the same age—mid to late twenties. The first corpse, dark-haired, has had both of her legs amputated. The absence of stubs and the presence of burnt flesh indicate the remains of her thighs might have been cauterized to limit excess bleeding, suggesting one of two things: the victim was still alive when the limbs were sawed, or the perpetrator didn’t want a bloody mess on his hands. I inch myself closer, noting the lack of trauma on the arms, torso, and face. Then I notice the back of the head; hair tangled and grimy with dried blood. Retrieving a pair of white gloves from my pocket and slipping one on, I push the hair back gently, revealing a deep, crude cut that’s been afflicted to the back of the skull, split open, nearly cracked in half all the way from the nape to the apex of the head, but what makes me feel like I’m hallucinating is what I find inside.

Absolutely nothing.

I move on to the other corpse, the one with hair dyed in the color of amethyst gemstones. This one, unlike the other, has had both arms severed without any mitigation—there are no signs of cauterization as far as I can tell. Whether that was deliberate or not is a mystery, but ‘exsanguination’ is a possible cause of death.

I take note of the intact legs, torso, and skull before reluctantly tackling what’s been done to the poor woman’s face. Her eyeballs seem to have been completely gouged out as all that is left are two hollow sockets, covered in mangled flesh and coagulated blood, a more arduous job than what the perpetrator had expected. Still, the trauma is just as gruesome, very similar to the other.

These murders are linked; performed by the same person, or people, carefully planned, and oddly executed.

September 26th

“Follow me, detective.”

The smell of formaldehyde hits me as soon as I step inside.

I follow Dr. Branz into the heart of the morgue where spotless examination tables and stainless-steel instruments sit still, like butlers with perfect postures awaiting orders. There’s a discolored liver in one of the medical scales, currently being weighed at 1751 grams.

I fully expect to recognize the two covered cadavers on two parallel tables. The medical examiner approaches the first one, pulls the drape off completely—the face is pale, hard, forever stuck in rigor mortis, but it’s the same face I met two days ago. Still lifeless. Still awaiting justice.

Dr. Branz takes a deep breath, cracking his gloved knuckles and turning the head sideways to show me the back of the skull.

“As you might’ve noticed, this one had her skull completely shattered. A long incision was made—very sloppy, lacked technique or even a steady hand, but it did the job, which apparently was to remove the brain.” He looks up at me, his thick, grey eyebrows evocative of furry caterpillars. “I had to scrape the lining to get a somewhat decent brain cell sample; barely anything was left behind.”

He releases the head, moving on to the missing legs. “Now, I believe trauma to the brain to be the official cause of death, since the flesh was cauterized after the legs were severed and she suffered no significant blood loss, as opposed to her gal pal over there.” I almost nod along, but don’t—his way of referring to the victims is casually disrespectful, I find it irritates me. That’s medical examiners for you; too disconnected from reality, too much time spent getting their hands bloody, or with their noses pressed up against microscope lenses. “There’s minor bruising around the wrists and ankles, which could indicate she was bound. Same with the other victim. But other than that, no trauma. No signs of rape or other sexual abuse either.”

Dr. Branz doesn’t pull the drape back up, instead twists on his heels with a loud squeaking sound to face the second cadaver. He seems in a rush, and it bugs me, though all I can do is hope he isn’t cutting any corners. I almost wish Dempsey was here, if only to speak up when necessary, something I was never particularly good at.

“This one, evidently enough,” he begins, pointing at her missing eyeballs. “Suffered an enucleation gone terribly wrong. Same careless technique was used; our killer definitely did not know what they were doing. I wouldn’t suspect a seasoned serial killer.” He almost seems insulted. “It’s amateur work, at best.”

This time I nod, latching onto every piece of useful information.

“Now, the severed arms weren’t cauterized with this one, and she lost over 60% of her blood volume. Definitely what killed her. It’s possible the perpetrator killed her first and was caught red-handed.” He chuckles at his own joke of poor taste, and my frown deepens. “It seems they were both killed at approximately the same time, around 14-16 hours before you found them in that alleyway.”

That would place the time of death between 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. on September the 23rd. I don’t resist the desire to take out my notepad this time; I write this down.

Dr. Branz carries on with his verbal report.

“We found high levels of ketamine in the bloodstreams of both victims, which means they probably weren’t unconscious when they were abducted, just extremely out of it.”

So, someone wanted the kidnappings to go unnoticed. Maybe they were surrounded by people, or the perpetrator simply doesn’t have the physique necessary to carry the body of a limp woman.

“The second victim, however, had nortriptyline and alprazolam, or Xanax, in her system. Two medications she seemed to be taking regularly, most likely for treatment of depression and anxiety disorders. And there’s more: her liver showed scarring tissue, even at her estimated age of 25-30 years old, indicating she may have been abusing alcohol as well. Her blood alcohol level was 0.21% at the time of her death. A dozen more years like that and we would’ve had a cirrhotic liver on our hands.”

I glance at the abnormal liver hanging in the scale as though it’s whispering to me.

“Oh, I almost forgot the best part.”

Best part?

Dr. Branz rolls the victim’s torso onto her side and pushes the purple strands of hair out of the way. I squint, inch a little closer, then—

I see it.

A tattoo.

A man with long brown hair dressed in red robes, clutching a tall cross and holding up two fingers—what I instantly associate to a representation of Jesus Christ. Around the detailed ink, the skin is dry and of a red-ish purple color.

“The skin has been scarred with microlesions,” Branz tells me. “Lesions that would’ve healed, had the body not shut down.”

I see where he’s going with this, but hell if I’m going to draw any premature conclusions. “Who says she didn’t simply get the tattoo a few days before her death?”

“Ah,” Branz smirks. “because of this.” He circles the table and goes back to the first body, turning her around in the same position, brushing the dark hair aside.

In the exact same spot on the nape, there’s a tattoo. It’s an old man, white hair, and long beard, dressed in brown robes. He’s holding onto some sort of translucent globe which I cannot identify, and a triangular halo shines above his head.

September 27th

Dempsey sends me home to rest, but it’s futile to try and sleep now—my head, just like my kitchen table, is a clutter of evidence, photographs, autopsy reports, highlighted bible passages. The lack of any fingerprints at the crime scene haunts me. I know if I close my eyes even for a second, the murderer will slip right through my fingers, and it’ll be my fault and mine only.

I’ve to stay focused.

The tattoos seem to represent The Father and The Son; two figures out of the three from the Holy Trinity. The Holy Spirit—there’s a third victim! But why kill these first two together? Unless they were all abducted at the same time and the third victim has yet to meet her untimely death…

Perhaps, even for her, it’s already too late.

At dusk, the phone rings. The sound’s shrill, such as a finger snapped in my ear or an alarm clock set too late, one I desperately cling to. It’s the call I’ve been waiting for from the coroner’s office, confirming the victims’ identities.

Little do I know, this will change everything.

Sydney and Riley Hargrove. Twin sisters, born triplets in 1992. Parents died in a car accident in 2011. According to the birth certificates, Sydney was the first born at 8:37 a.m., with Riley following at 9:01 a.m., and Alice, the youngest, at 9:52 a.m..

September 28th

“Detective Holland.”

I whip out my badge, looking away from the medical green walls and beige uniforms to face the medical secretary. “I’m looking for a certain Alice Hargrove, I believe she was admitted in April of 2016.”

The middle-aged woman slips her thick prescription glasses on, the ones that hang from her neck by a beaded chain and enlarge her eyes like magnifying glass. She blinks, her eyelids beating as insects would with their wings before flying off, and her lips the shape—permanent, I suspect—of an upside-down crescent.

“What does the NYPD want with Alice?”

I put my badge away. Clearly, she’s not fond of it, and not too happy with my presence, either.

“I need to talk with her.”

My answer doesn’t seem to satisfy.

“Regarding her family.”

When I am met with nothing but a hateful stare as a response, I push a little harder. “Please, Ma’am, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t important.”

She sighs, finally giving a sign of life as she nearly limps off to another employee, one I assume to be her superior. The taller, older woman frowns before following the pointed finger in my direction. Her expression clears up in an instant, highly contrasting that of her subordinate.

“Madeleine Mason, head nurse.” Her smile seems genuine and allows me to relax, if only in the slightest. “I understand you’re looking for Alice Hargrove?”

I nod. “Just a few questions to ask her concerning her family. Her sisters, to be exact.”

“Ahh,” Mrs. Mason rounds the counter, prompting me to fall into step with her as we head into the hallway. “It’s the second girl, Riley, isn’t it? Did she get into trouble again?”

She seems saddened at the prospect, though not surprised, as if that is the answer she’s expecting.

“I’m afraid I cannot divulge much information.”

A nod that makes the slack skin beneath her chin sway. “I understand. Though I’m afraid we cannot provide much help, officer—Alice Hargrove was released from our institution five weeks ago.”


Mrs. Mason smiles. “That’s right. Ever since she was first admitted, Alice was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and psychosis. She worked hard to gain back control over herself, and in the past years, she’s made tremendous progress. Enough to return to a life within society.”

“If I may ask,” I broach a new subject. “What kind of person was she?”

“Alice?” Mrs. Mason widens her eyes like she’s revisiting a distant memory. “Oh dear… a troubled girl, that’s for certain, but always polite. Very pious. Not to mention a talented artist, she loved to draw all kinds of people, the elderly, and children.”

We stop in the hallway, turning to a display board nailed behind protective glass.

“Actually, this is one of her pieces.” A fond smile. “We take much pride in it.”

The name of the institution stands in capitalized, official lettering: PARK SLOPE PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL. Below, a hand drawn image, worthy of being painted on the ceiling of a renowned church. I recognize the lines, the colors used, the expressions, the setting.

It’s all too familiar.

“Mrs. Mason, do you know where Alice might be? An address perhaps, or a place she’s mentioned before leaving?”

The older woman before me seems shocked, a little skeptical—not because she doesn’t trust me, but because her concern for Alice grows with every word that comes out of my mouth.

“Ah…” She clutches her pearls. “I’m afraid I do not, we’re not allowed to inquire about sensitive information unless the patient wishes it. Oh, but the secretary who served you earlier, Louisa; her and Alice are very close. Maybe she would know.”

I follow Mrs. Mason back to the reception desk. The counter is vacant.

“Ben, dear,” Mrs. Mason calls out to a male employee, dressed in those same beige scrub tops and bottoms, filing a pile of documents. “Did you happen to see Louisa by any chance?”

The man nods, then points to the parking lot. “Yeah, she just left. Seemed quite rushed.”


I reach Louisa Bellview’s house. The autumn sun shines bright, much too warm for such a day—it clashes with the frigidity I feel in my bones.

Dempsey and the reinforcements will be here momentarily, but I dare not hope for a search warrant. Even with all the evidence I’ve gathered against Alice Hargrove, nothing yet proves her connection to Louisa Bellview and her residence. I’ll have to get creative on this one and pray—I can’t help the irony—for the best.

There’s a car parked in the driveway. I crouch down and touch the exhaust pipe, finding it still warm. I suck my teeth, a hand on my holster, and walk up to the front door before knocking three times.

I allow thirty seconds to pass and knock again.

A minute later, still nothing.

I press my ear up against the door and listen.

Silence. Then, suddenly, hushed voices. Rushed footsteps. A door closing shut.

Back door.

I draw my gun, flipping the safety off and making my way around the side of the house as quietly as I can. The backyard of the house’s modest—enclosed except for the opening through the bushes, which must lead into someone else’s yard, on another street. I hear dry leaves ruffle in the distance, then I notice them.

Two shapes, hand in hand, running off in the shrubs.

“Police, stop!”

Dempsey’s squad pulls up as I scream after the suspects and take off in a sprint. I hear Dempsey barking orders left and right, but I can’t stop—I cannot allow these women to escape, not when we’re so close, not when I can practically taste retribution. Biological advantages on my side, it isn’t long before my much wider strides win me the chase.

“Stop it right there or I’ll shoot!” I wouldn’t, but if I can scare at least one of them. It seems to work on Louisa, I recognize her wrinkled eyes and askew prescription glasses. She spins to face me, looking terrified and fighting for breath. “Hands in the air, right now, both of you!”

Louisa obeys right away, her manicured hands trembling as tears begin to split her cheeks. The younger woman, on the one hand, wears the smile of the devil.

Another officer comes up behind me, and I nod my own orders. Within seconds, I have Alice Hargrove flat against the ground, hands bound in cuffs.

Ravens fly off branches, squawking like messengers carrying news of death. Alice turns her head, peering at me from the peripheral vision of her one eye.

“I am one vessel, one person to inhabit the soul of three—for there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.

Her laughter, laced with evil. The tattoo inked on her neck calls out to me, with its white feathers, open wings, regal aura.

The Holy Spirit.


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